COVID-19: musical interlude

I’m assuming you’re equipping yourself with lots of useful information about riding out the covid-19 pandemic in healthy ways. I will post things from time to time that I find especially valuable, in case they haven’t cross your path. Someone shared this video with me that I now play at least once a day, as a way of remembering that however far apart we have to be right now, we can choose to be “for each other.”

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX: Performance anxiety

It’s a big day in a man’s erotic life the first time he loses his erection in the midst of a sexual encounter. It can feel like a tragic self-betrayal, a terrible humiliation, proof that he’s broken and can never have sex again. The good news is that if he’s lucky and he hangs in there, he gets to the red-letter day when he discovers that he can lose his erection AND stay connected to his partner. In fact, that’s where the good stuff begins.

It takes some maturity, some practice, some support, and a little bit of a leap of faith to view erectile dysfunction simply as a mechanical failure, not a comment on your masculinity or a referendum on your worth as a human being. It’s a life-changing experience to realize that being a wonderful lover isn’t just about what you do with your penis but what you do with your hands, your mouth, your voice, your sense of humor, your energy, and your heart.

Erections are great and fun and super-pleasurable. But it’s exhausting and challenging to operate under pressure to Perform Like a Porn Star, constantly worrying – to put it bluntly – about your dick: is it big enough, is it hard enough, am I doing it right, am I going to come too fast, am I taking too long? Performance anxiety is the enemy of erotic intelligence, at least the way I understand it, which is the ability to be present for pleasure, to tune into your partner and what’s going on right here right now, without getting wrapped in trying to make something specific happen.

It’s not just men who struggle with performance anxiety. Social media has ramped up perfectionism for all of us. We spend a lot of time fixated on Getting It Right. We’re constantly tailoring our appearance and our behavior for each other’s approval. It’s an existential challenge to let all that go and leave reserve performance anxiety for people who are onstage performing.

In my work and in my life, I’m all about healing through pleasure, learning for myself and teaching other people how to turn down the volume on Pressure to Perform and be present for pleasure.

In workshops or in sessions when we’re focusing on intimacy, sometimes I will have partners spend time gazing into each other’s eyes, exploring the notion of the eyes as gateway to the soul, “into-me-you-see.” This can be beautiful, and it can also feel really vulnerable. We take in A LOT of information visually, and we live in a culture that has become hyper-focused on evaluation, stirring up equal amounts of judgment and fear of being judged.

So if we’re working on cultivating the capacity to be present for pleasure, sometimes it makes sense to close the eyes, to turn down the volume on incoming visual stimulus.

If you want to practice being present for pleasure right now, one way to do that is to let your eyes gently close and go inside. With your eyes gently closed, the idea is to take a moment to breathe, go inside, and take a break from processing visual information, judging and being judged.

As you let yourself breathe, bring your awareness to the way gravity works on your body. Let your face muscles rest, let your jaw soften, let your shoulders rest. Feel your buttocks on the seat of your chair, your feet on the floor. You don’t have to change anything or do anything special. Just take a moment to breathe and make space for what happens when you withdraw the sense of sight. Do things quiet down inside, do they rev up, do they stay the same? Try it now and just let yourself notice what happens.

Part of erotic intelligence is expanding your awareness of your own body. Notice the temperature of the air in the room against your skin. Notice the places where your clothing touches your skin, whether it feels soft, constricting, comforting, annoying. Notice what sounds you’re aware of in the room right now. Notice which sensations are pleasurable, what you’d like more of, what you’d like less of.

With a trusted sensual partner, closing your eyes or using a blindfold can be a simple tool for cultivating erotic intelligence. Removing one sense can heighten others. Light touch and pleasant sounds can be amplified, as can tastes and fragrances. The uncertainty of what happens next can create a luscious experience of anticipation and seductiveness. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, but be right here right now, taking in whatever sensory information is available.

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Note: this was part of a talk I gave November 9, 2019, as part of “Sessions Live,” Esther Perel’s online salon for sex therapists and coaches.

EVENTS: Sessions Live 2019 with Esther Perel

I had the pleasure last weekend of participating in “Sessions Live 2019: In Search of Eros,” an all-day gathering convened and hosted by Esther Perel, who’s probably the most famous sex-and-relationship therapist in the world right now. Her books (Mating in Captivity and The State of Affairs) and her TED talks (on desire and infidelity) have acquired a passionate following worldwide, as evidenced by the sold-out crowd of 400 who showed for the live event November 9 in midtown Manhattan (many of whom flew in from other countries) and the 1200 people viewing at home via Livestream.

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A New York resident born in Belgium and educated in Israel, Esther brings a distinctly European flavor to her work, so what might have been a typical therapy conference with parade of academic talking heads became something else – a lively salon with a dynamic array of speakers presenting in a variety of formats with a very engaged audience,  fueled by delicious food.

The morning began with an on-your-feet warm-up conducted by Esther along with 5 Rhythms teacher Amber Ryan, psychoanalyst Aviva Gitlin, and therapist-performer-ritualist Paul Browde. Esther gave an opening talk called “Finding the Erotic Self:  A Journey for Practitioners,” which included dialogue with Alexandra Solomon. Before lunch, Holly Richmond talked about her work helping trauma survivors recover their sexuality, and I spoke about my own concentration on healing through pleasure.

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After lunch Sara Nasserzadeh led the participants through a modified Sexual Attitudes Reassessment. Then there were presentations about erotic obstacles by Ian Kerner (author of She Comes First), psychologist Guy Winch, and the two young co-founders of the St. Louis-based educational company Afrosexology, Dalychia Saah and Rafaella Fiallo. The last hour brought a free-flow of questions and commentary from audience members both in the room and watching via Livestream.

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Women dominate the field of therapy and social work, and certainly Esther’s audience was 75-80% women (as became clear at the reception she hosted the night before — above), which is why she asked me to address the issues that men bring to a sex therapist. I talked about the dance between performance anxiety and being present for pleasure, the lessons I learned about erotic energy from Joseph Kramer and the Body Electric School, the paradox of pornography as liberator and oppressor, and my own formula for satisfying sexual encounters (PCM: your own Pleasure, Connection with your partner, and the Mechanics of what goes up and down, in and out).

For the rest of the day, I spent every break being pulled aside by people saying, “Do you have a minute? I have a question about…” I heard very touching stories from men who hailed from Iceland, Poland, and China, and female therapists who work with very specific populations (Catholic priests, homeless mentally ill, Jersey guys).

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I walked away from the event feeling nourished by the high level of powerful questions that the day generated: What’s the difference between sex and eroticism? If I’m struggling to figure out what I want, what happens if I ask myself “What am I missing?” Which of the senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) is most erotic to me? Which ones do I need to ramp up in my life? How do we teach vulnerability to young men who have no experience of that? How do we deal with different stages of erotic life?

MEDIA: “Sessions Live” with Esther Perel November 9

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On Saturday, November 9, I’ll be speaking at Sessions Live 2019, an annual clinical event hosted by Esther Perel. I invite you to join me and this year’s esteemed guests for an invigorating day of learning online.

Click here to purchase your Livestream ticket for $99

Sessions Live is a one-day event dedicated to providing an opportunity for professionals in the field of mental health to come together to learn and challenge each other around a relevant topic in the field of modern relationships.

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This year, Esther invites us to explore the topic of Eros, also known as eroticism. We’ll look at eroticism as a quality of aliveness, vibrancy and vitality that is critical to both life and the clinical relationship. It goes far beyond a repertoire of sexual techniques. It’s a sense of creativity, agency and pleasure that we often aim for in our clients but neglect within ourselves.

Learn more about Sessions Live 2019: Finding Eros Livestream

Together, we’ll answer the questions:

  • ●  What does erotic intelligence mean to us as therapists, coaches, and relationship professionals?
  • ●  How do we help our clients cultivate a feeling of vitality?
  • ●  How do we sustain energy and aliveness in our work and in our own lives?
  • ●  What does recovery from trauma look like when it includes re-engaging with pleasure and vibrancy?
  • ●  And much more.

Your livestream ticket includes:

  • ●  Online access to the live full-day training on November 9th
  • ●  All archived recordings to view on demand after the event – the content is yours to watch when and where you please
  • ●  CE credits available for an additional cost

 

Purchase your Livestream ticket​ today and use code bodyandsoul​ for a special discount.

Join us online for a day of learning that will help you expand your definition of eroticism and increase your confidence in helping your clients tackle issues of love’s challenges and love’s celebrations.

illustration by Natalia Ramos (IG @natalia_ramas)

photo by Kathryn Wirsing

QUOTE OF THE DAY: EROTIC

“How To Turn Off The Erotic In Five Easy Steps”
1. Hurry, Feel Rushed or Pressured. Your sexual soul wants nothing to do with feeling hurried or pressured around pleasure.
2. Make sex into work.
3. Make orgasm the point. Orgasm is pleasure that last for a few seconds to minutes. The erotic pleasure can last a whole lot longer.
4. Worry about “doing it right”. Sex is not a performance art, it is a feeling experience.
5. Worry about how you look, taste and smell.

Bully the erotic and you may find that it will walk out on you.

–Pamela Madsen (author of Shameless)

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THE PARADOX OF PORN: Update

I’m pleased to note that, a year after its publication, my book The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture, continues to have an impact on the population for whom it was intended.

In mid-June, I gave a presentation on the subject matter of the book at the annual conference of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) in Philadelphia, whose theme this year — Let the Body Rejoice!” — was right up my alley.

At the end of July, I gave a reading from the book at Easton Mountain Retreat in upstate New York as part of the annual Gay Spirit Camp, and I also conducted a workshop called “Writing from the Erotic Body.”

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I recently received this five-star review on Amazon.com:

If you’re a gay man who wants a more exciting, pleasurable, meaningful, and fulfilling sex life;
if you struggle with sexual shame;
if you’ve found porn both liberatory & oppressive;
if you believe in sexual freedom & liberation but feel ambivalent, dissatisfied, or downright depressed about how those ideals play out in most gay male sexual culture;
if you can’t help comparing yourself to the men depicted in gay porn and feeling you don’t measure up in stamina, technique, repertoire, attitude, muscle size, dick size, body type, facial features, ejaculatory ability, or age;
if the simultaneously sex-obsessed and erotophobic society in which we live has negatively impacted your sexuality;
or if you simply enjoy reading smart, entertaining, skillful writing on sex and culture,
then this book is for you!

In the category of You Learn Something New Every Day, I recently encountered a definition of pornography I had never heard before. Philosopher Michael Rea theorizes that an image is sexual pornography when we use it for immediate gratification, while avoiding the complexities of actual sexual relationships like physical intimacy, emotional connection and romantic interaction. Sounds reasonable to me — what do you think?